Friends of the Smokies announced today that renovation of the Laurel Gap Shelter is now complete.
Joint efforts of labor and funding from Friends of the Smokies, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club improved cooking and sleeping quarters for campers, while also reducing potential problems with black bears at the shelter located near Balsam High Top.
Reconstruction at Laurel Gap, the fifteenth and final shelter project, began in September, but weather prevented delivery of roofing materials by helicopter. The volunteer crew returned the first week of December to finish roofing the shelter under the threat of winter snows. Laurel Gap is located in North Carolina, near the intersection of the Sterling Ridge and Balsam Mountain Trails. Twelve of the Park’s 15 backcountry shelters are located on the Appalachian Trail; Mt. LeConte, Laurel Gap and Kephart Prong are not.
Funds from Friends of the Smokies and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy furnished supplies and helicopter delivery of materials to the remote shelter locations. The Appalachian Trail Maintainers Committee of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club provided the skilled volunteer labor necessary to rebuild each shelter; their work was supervised by staff from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The Richard Haiman National Park Foundation contributed well over $100,000 to Friends of the Smokies since 1999 to support a dozen shelter projects, including Laurel Gap. Additional financial support came from Friends of the Smokies’ specialty license plate owners in Tennessee and North Carolina, Home Federal Bank, Maureen K. Wilder and William O. Young.
Architect Philip Royer of Knoxville, also a member of the Appalachian Trail Maintainers Committee, drew the basic blueprint for every shelter rehab project, incorporating improved natural lighting, a cooking area to separate food odors from the sleeping space, improved bunk access, new roofs and masonry repair, the removal of chain-link fences, and drainage improvements. With these changes, overnight hikers enjoy a much safer and much more inviting camping experience.
Here's a before photo:
And an after photo:
The Laurel Gap Shelter is located off the Balsam Mountain Trail near the Mt. Sterling Trail junction.